It was a very merry Christmas for the Lebanon Catholic girls basketball team, but another week like this one and a happy new year will be in some jeopardy.
Rolling along at 5-1 and owning a share of first place in Section 3 prior to Saint Nick's arrival, the Beavers promptly turned around and dropped two of three games this week in disheartening fashion, including Friday night's 51-43 loss to Donegal in the championship game of the Lebanon Catholic Holiday Tournament.
Save for 24 points worth of hustle and effort plays from junior forward Alexis Hill, Catholic struggled mightily against the scrappy, fullcourt pressing Indians and tournament MVP Rachel Robinson.
"We're just a bad team right now. Our last three games we were bad," said a visibly upset Lebanon Catholic coach Patti Hower. "Fortunately, none of them were league games. We beat ourselves. Alexis played awesome, nobody else did anything. We're just a bad team right now."
And it proved to be a double whammy for Catholic that Donegal is a good team right now, as evidenced by its 6-2 record and the determination it showed against a more physically talented Lebanon Catholic squad.
"They're a very good team," Donegal coach Chadd Ward said of the Beavers. "I keep telling people I'm picking them to win it in Section 3.They're tough all the way around and very, very athletic.We knew coming in it was gonna be that kind of way, but we executed and we pressed - that's kinda what we do. We run for four quarters, and I think by the end of the game we were dictating the speed (of the game) and that was really in our favor."
Fronted by 10 first half points from Hill, the Beavers led by as many as eight - on a Hill putback that made it 16-8 with 1:21 left in the first quarter - in the opening half. But with Robinson (18 points) and Kiera Baughman (14 points) leading the way, Donegal recovered to take a 27-23 lead at the half.
That was attributable to the Beavers' decided lack of flow offensively against the pressure Donegal produced, something it was never able to correct.
"Bad passes," Hower said glumly. "There were too many possessions where we didn't even get a shot because we made a bad pass. We're not reacting...We're just making bad decisions. We're not playing."
Despite it all, Catholic was in it almost until the end. After a Baughman 3-pointer with 5:29 left produced a six-point lead, Hill came up with her own personal 6-0 run with two steals and two free throws to knot the score at 42 with 3:55 left.
But Catholic would manage only a Celine Mars free throw the rest of the way, as Robinson led a game-closing 9-1 run to sew up the win and MVP honors.
"I'll tell you what, I'm glad she's on my team. That's for sure," Ward said of Robinson, who helped Donegal to the 2A state field hockey title in the fall. "She really is what we need. She's a good leader, she's vocal, she works hard. There is no one in the gym that outworks her in anything."
For its part, Catholic has that same type of player in Hill, and on paper at least, better overall talent. But it did not look that way on Friday night or in a non-league loss to Marian Catholic on Tuesday.
"We're going in the wrong direction and I don't know why," Hower said. "We were just very blah.We were bad. I don't want to take anything away from Donegal, but I thought we were the better team. But we didn't play like the better team."
Donegal 51, Lebanon Catholic 43
Robinson 7 4-5 18, Baughman 5 2-4 14, Snyder 1 0-0 3, Diffenderfer 4 3-7 11, Fernald 0 0-0 0, Steffy 1 1-2 3, Livelsberger 1 0-0 2, Creek 0 0-0 0. Totals: 19 10-18 51
Lebanon Catholic (43)
Kline 1 1-2 4, Callihan 0 2-2 2, Pierre 2 0-3 4, Hill 11 2-4 24, Turner 0 0-0 0, Shellehamer 3 0-0 6, Mars 1 1-2 3. Totals: 18 4-9 41.
Donegal 14 13 8 16 - 51
Lebanon Catholic 16 7 11 9 - 43
3-pointers: D: Baughman 2, Snyder. LC: Kline.